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Martin Scorsese's brutal character study incisively portrays the true rise and fall and redemption of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, a violent man in and out of the ring who thrives on his ability (and desire) to take a beating. Opening with the spectacle of the over-the-hill La Motta (Robert De Niro) practicing his 1960s night-club act, the film flashes back to 1940s New York, when Jake's career is on the rise. Despite pressure from the local mobsters, Jake trusts his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) to help him make it to a ...

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Feb 16, 2019

Seeing Raging Bull Again

Martin Scorsese has directed many films showing the grit and passion found in the underside of American life. Among the best of his movies is "Raging Bull" (1980) which tells the story of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta, played in a stunning performance by Robert De Niro. I loved the movie when it was released and have finally seen it again. The movie received little fanfare upon its initial release, but it soon achieved the stature of a classic.

Filmed in black and white, "Raging Bull" consists of brutally realistic fight scenes of LaMotta's tough fights with the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Tony Janiro, and Marcel Cerdan that may be famous to boxing fans. The film centers around a fight LaMotta threw at the behest of his Mafia handlers to a fighter named Billy Fox. Throwing the fight plagued LaMotta for the rest of his life. LaMotta himself coached DeNiro in the fight scenes. LaMotta proved himself hard, tough, and vindictive in the ring.

LaMotta's brutality in the ring is mirrored in his life outside. The film develops LaMotta's relationship with his brother, Joey,(Joe Pesci) who served as his manager, and with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). Pesci and Moriarty were unknowns and both turned in stellar performances. Jealous, paranoid, and violent, Jake LaMotta was his own worst enemy as he abuses and groundlessly suspects both his wife and brother throughout the film. For most of the film, LaMotta is portrayed as a brutal, bullying,and unstable.

The film captures the raw world of professional boxing, with its pervasive criminal element. It is difficult not to be fascinated. Scenes of shabby streets and rooms alternate with scenes at posh night clubs and with the anger unleashed in the ring. The music score, which ranges from Italian opera to 1940's standards, to the doo-wop song "Lonely Nights" by an early girl group called the Hearts is integrated seamlessly into the film.

After he retires from the ring, LaMotta gets in serious legal difficulty and is imprisoned. But the film shows an individual who has a degree of ability to reflect on his life and to achieve a measure of redemption. A Biblical passage at the end of the film suggests the possibility of forgiveness with time and repentance.

"Raging Bull" is a story about the harder parts of American life combining an unsparing message with the possibility of hope. I enjoyed revisiting the movie at last and remembering why I loved it when seeing it many years ago.

Robin Friedman

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